Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Two private civil enforcement suits filed under Texas' controversial abortion law

A man in Arkansas and another in Illinois on Monday filed what appeared to be the first legal actions under a strict new abortion law in Texas that is enforced by ordinary citizens, regardless of where they live, reported the New York Times.

The Arkansas man, Oscar Stilley, who was described in the complaint as a “disbarred and disgraced” lawyer, said in an interview that he had filed the lawsuit against a Texas doctor, who publicly wrote about performing an abortion, to test the provisions of the law. The Supreme Court declined to stop the law, which has effectively ended most abortions in the state since going into effect this month.

The law bars enforcement by state officials, a novel maneuver aimed at circumventing judicial review, and instead relies on citizens to file legal claims against abortion providers or anyone suspected of “aiding or abetting” an abortion. Successful suits can bring the plaintiffs awards of at least $10,000.

Proponents of the law and anti-abortion activists had been satisfied that the threat of legal action appeared to stop most abortions in Texas. Some feared that the openness of the law — allowing anyone to file suit — could result in a first test case that was unfavorable to their cause.

Mr. Stilley said he was not trying to halt abortions by Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio physician who wrote in The Washington Post on Saturday that he had violated the Texas law — which prohibits abortions after cardiac activity is detected, or roughly six weeks into pregnancy.

“I’m not pro-life,” Mr. Stilley, 58, said in an interview. “The thing that I’m trying to vindicate here is the law. We pride ourselves on being a nation of laws. What’s the law?”

The Justice Department has sued Texas over the law, known as Senate Bill 8, and argued in an emergency motion last week that the state adopted the measure “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.”

“It is settled constitutional law that ‘a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,’” the department said in the lawsuit, referring to the standard set in the 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade. “But Texas has done just that.”

Dr. Braid was also sued on Monday by an Illinois man, Felipe N. Gomez, who described himself in his complaint as a “pro-choice plaintiff.” Mr. Gomez could not be immediately reached for comment about his lawsuit, which was earlier reported by KSAT news in San Antonio.

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